The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 21 Issue 12

Saturday 11 November 2000


Sanity in the Election Process
Lauren Weinstein and Peter Neumann
Statement by Don A. Dillman on Palm Beach County Florida Ballot
Rob Kling
Florida vote counts
The end of the Multics era
Excessive bounce activity and lost messages
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Sanity in the Election Process

<Lauren Weinstein <>>
Sat, 11 Nov 2000 13:29:47 -0800 (PST)

			Lauren Weinstein
			Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
			Moderator, PRIVACY Forum
			Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

			Peter G. Neumann
			Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
			Moderator, RISKS Forum
			Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


"Sanity in the Election Process"

November 11, 2000

The continuing controversies over the results of the recent U.S.
Presidential election, particularly concerning the vote in Florida, have now
apparently begun to hinge on technical issues relating to voting systems and
ballots, especially in terms of machine vs. manual recounts, voting
irregularities, voter confusion and complaints, and other related issues.

We feel that several critical points are being misunderstood or
misrepresented by some parties to these controversies, particularly in light
of Governor George W. Bush's campaign having taken federal court actions
attempting to block manual recounts of the vote in several Florida counties.
Regardless of the outcome of those particular court actions, the following
points are crucial to consider.

1) As is well known to election officials and voting system vendors, but
   historically not advertised to the public at large, all voting systems
   are subject to some degree of error -- electronic and mechanical systems
   alike.  Punchcard-based systems are no exception, for which a variety of
   known problems can occur.  These include poor ballot layout (currently a
   major issue regarding the "butterfly" Palm Beach County ballot), machine
   reading errors (often relating to incompletely punched ballot selections,
   usually in the form of "hanging chad"), paper fatigue, and other problems.

   In general, so long as the interested parties both have observers
   participating in manual recounts to assure a consensus on the
   interpretation and tabulation of the cards, manual recounts provide the
   MOST reliable mechanism for counting these cards accurately, particularly
   due to the common hanging chad problem which often reads as "closed" (no
   vote) when processed through automatic reading machines.  Indeed, manual
   counting is still prevalent today in England and Germany.

   It is true that manual recounts tend to boost the number of votes
   counted, again due to hanging chad and other problems noted above.  This
   suggests that if concerns are present regarding the fairness of a manual
   recount only in particular counties, the obvious solution is to manually
   recount in ALL Florida counties, and to manually count ALL votes (not
   just a sampling).  Yes, this will be slow, and potentially expensive.
   But if the will of voters is not to be subjugated to technical flaws over
   which they have no control, this would be the only fair course.

2) While all voting systems have "normal" error rates, these errors typically
   are not of great significance so long as the margin of victory is
   significantly larger than the error rate, which is usually the case.
   However, this does NOT suggest that systemic errors in the voting process
   are of insignificance and can simply be discarded in close elections
   where the error rate DOES matter.

   In particular, the Palm Beach situation from the VERY START of election
   day showed all the earmarks of systemic problems.  Voters complained of
   ballot confusion in great numbers, harried precinct workers provided
   conflicting and apparently often inaccurate information to voters about
   the ability or inability to correct spoiled ballots or other ballot
   errors, and warnings regarding the confusing ballot situation failed to
   even reach all affected precincts, among other obvious problems.  These
   problems occurred all through election day in Palm Beach County.  The
   statistically anomalous results of the voting in that area regarding
   votes received by the Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan would appear to
   further validate this analysis -- the dramatic vote skew observed clearly
   does not result from "normal" voting errors that can be reasonably
   discounted or ignored.

   Unlike the typical error rate expected in most elections where
   significant quantities of voter complaints are not received, the Palm
   Beach situation, with its extremely atypical and alarming set of
   complaints and problems throughout election day, would appear to put those
   votes in a category that cannot be simply swept under the rug, and that
   appear to be deserving of immediate redress, adjustment, and/or
   revoting.  These widespread voting problems in Palm Beach County were
   clearly not the fault of "inept" or "moronic" elderly voters, as some
   persons have arrogantly suggested.

3) Attempts to short-circuit the process of correcting the injustices and
   technical problems discussed above, through calls for rapid "closure" or
   the simple accepting of inaccurate and unjust results (particularly in
   Palm Beach County) "for the sake of the country" should be rejected.

   We should not attempt to resolve this situation through quick "solutions"
   or calls for concessions.  These same issues would be present even if the
   candidates' current positions were reversed.  The critical questions
   shouldn't even be focused on the candidates at all, but rather on the
   VOTERS themselves, who appear to have been shortchanged by technical
   issues, procedural problems not under their control, and now by attempts
   by politicians to hurriedly dispose of this mess through vague references
   to the public good -- a route that would leave the affected voters
   effectively disenfranchised.

There are two efforts that need to take place.  First, the problems of this
particular election, as discussed above, need to be dealt with in a
deliberate and fair fashion.  If that involves courts, manual recounts, and
revoting, both inside and perhaps outside Florida, so be it -- they're all
part of the procedures that we have in place.  Let's get it right -- we
should not be treating voters as disposable peons.  If we do not take a
proper course, whoever ends up in the White House will be viewed by at least
half of the U.S. population, and probably much of the world, as not wholly

Secondly, we need to look long and hard at the election process around
this country, taking note that calls for radical departures from current
widely-used systems must be viewed with extreme care and skepticism.  In
particular, Internet voting must be considered to be extremely problematic
(please see the PFIR Statement on Internet Voting -, and "Hacking the Vote" -  One major reason to look
skeptically upon these hi-tech systems is that their potential reduction in
voter privacy and lack of rigorous audit trails fail to allow true recounts
to occur when the integrity of the voting process is called into question,
and such questions can arise in electronic as well as mechanical voting

We stand at a crossroads where the existence of fundamental flaws in our
election system have finally been exposed to the public.  It is no longer
tenable for the powers that be, with a gentleman's agreement or a nod and a
wink, to steamroll over these flaws -- and the will of voters -- for the sake
of convenience and expediency.  We can start down the path toward ensuring
genuine fairness and integrity in the voting process by making sure that the
election of last Tuesday is resolved in a manner that not only serves the
candidates, but more importantly the will of the voters themselves.

   = = = =

Lauren Weinstein
(818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Peter G. Neumann
(650) 859-2375
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, RISKS Forum -
Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Statement by Don A. Dillman on Palm Beach County Florida Ballot

<Rob Kling <kling@INDIANA.EDU>>
Fri, 10 Nov 2000 16:49:44 -0500

Statement by Don A. Dillman on Palm Beach County Florida Ballot
November 9, 2000

Several people have asked for my opinion on whether the format of the
November 7, 2000, general election ballot in Palm Beach County, Florida,
resulted in more people voting for Buchanan that had intended to do so.
This statement is in response to those requests.

I cannot say with certainty whether the format of this ballot affected a
certain number of people who thus voted by mistake for Pat Buchanan, while
intending to vote for another candidate. That would require knowledge of
what specific people did in the voting booth Tuesday, which I don't have.
However, based on my experiences and past research concerning how the visual
format of questionnaires affects respondents to surveys, I believe it is
likely that certain visual features of the ballot resulted in some
individuals who wished to vote for Gore inadvertently punching the second
hole in the column, thus resulting in a vote for Buchanan.  These visual
attributes may also have resulted in double punches as people attempted to
correct their error.  However, I do not think that voters who intended to
vote for Bush were similarly affected.

I believe this outcome occurred because of the joint effects of several
undesirable features of the Palm Beach County ballot, rather than a single
attribute.  These factors include: (1) the listing of some candidates for
President on the left-hand page of the ballot, while others were listed in a
separate group on the right-hand page; (2) use of a single column of circles
between the pages to register one's vote, regardless of which page contained
the candidate's name; (3) the lack of familiarity some people may have had
with how to answer a punch ballot printed in this format; (4) the likelihood
that most people knew which candidate they wanted to vote for prior to
seeing any of the choices on the ballot; (5) the location of the
presidential choices on the first pages of the ballot; and (6) the visual
process people typically follow when registering preferences on a survey
questionnaire or election ballot when it is unnecessary to read all choices
(names of presidential candidates, for example) before registering one's
vote.  In order to mark their ballot, it was necessary for people to insert
their paper ballot underneath the booklet that showed the ballot
choices. They were then required to use a stick-pin answering device to
punch through a circle on the ballot to make a hole in the paper ballot.

When people open and/or begin to read material printed in a booklet format,
they tend to look first at the left-hand page and focus their attention
there.  Because this is a ballot in which most people expect to vote on most
or all of the choices, it is also likely that they would expect to answer
the questions in order.  It is therefore likely that many voters began
reading the left-hand page without first looking at the second page and
seeing what material was printed there.  Thus, they may have been unaware
that some of the candidates for president were listed on the opposite page.

Most people who completed the ballot knew who they wanted to vote for prior
to reading the list of names.  Thus, rather than attempting to read all of
the answer possibilities before marking their choice, they simply looked for
the name of the candidate for whom they wished to vote. The typical
procedure would be to start at the top of the list and read downwards until
the preferred candidate was found.

After reading the first candidate's name (Bush) on the left-hand page,
people who wanted to vote for him should have been guided to the answer
column by the number and an arrow.  That circle was also the first (or top)
circle in the answer column.  It therefore seems quite unlikely that the
voter would by-pass the first circle and mark the second circle, thereby
voting for Buchanan, by mistake.

In contrast, people who wanted to vote for Gore, and had just seen Bush's
name, would be expected to go straight down the page as they searched for
Gore's name.  After finding it, people are likely to have moved their
fingers and thumb that held the stick-pin punching device to the appropriate
punching location.  It is likely that in the process of doing this some
people (particularly those who are right-handed) did not see the number and
arrow pointing to the appropriate answer circle because it was obscured by
their hand.  They may have also concluded that the second hole in the column
was the correct one to punch, simply because Gore was the second candidate
on the page.  Thus, both the locational feature (being second) and mechanics
of answering seem likely to have worked together in a way that led some
people to inadvertently punch the second hole (Buchanan choice) rather than
the third hole (Gore choice).

The possibility that some circles in the column of possible answers applied
to Buchanan (on the next page) is unlikely to have occurred to some
respondents.  It is most unusual for any ballot or questionnaire to list
choices to the first page to the right of the names, while choices to the
second page are listed to the left of the names, and in addition to have all
of them listed in a single column.  Therefore, I would expect that some
respondents had no idea that any of the choices in the answer column applied
to the next page instead of to the candidates on page one.  This problem was
accentuated by the presidential preference being listed on the first page of
the ballot, before the respondent had figured out, through experience,
exactly how the ballot worked.

It does seem likely that some respondents who marked the second circle would
have noticed that it was not aligned with the Gore box in the same way as
the first circle was aligned with the Bush box.  However, among those who
noticed the different alignment this feature may have been discounted,
because of their having to link together physically separate components (the
actual paper ballot and the booklet listing candidate names) and the
association of the second circle in the column with the second candidate
(Gore) choice.

I would also expect that some ballots were double punched (Gore and
Buchanan) as voters started to punch the second circle, realized they were
making an error, and attempted to recover from it.

Despite the visual and mechanical problems that individually and jointly
increase the likelihood that Gore preference voters unintentionally and
unknowingly voted for Buchanan, the nature of the problem is such that it
would not affect most voters.  Most people are able to "figure-out" how to
answer questions when they are presented in a visually inappropriate way, as
was done in this situation.  However, I am also confident that some
Gore-preference voters would have made the error described above.  At the
same time, and for the reasons described above, Bush-preference voters were
not likely to make the same mistake.

Don A. Dillman is the Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government
and Public Policy at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
The opinions expressed here are his own and should not be attributed to his
employer, Washington State University, or to the American Association for
Public Opinion Research, for which he now serves as Vice-President and
President-Elect.  Background on the theory and research that lead to the
interpretations reported here are published in Chapter 3 of Dillman, Don A.
2000 Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, New York: John
Wiley; and Jenkins, Cleo R. and Don A.  Dillman 1997 "Towards a Theory of
Self-Administered Questionnaire Design," Chapter 7 of Lyberg, Lars, et al.,
Survey Measurement and Process Quality, (pp.165-196,) New York: Wiley

Don A. Dillman, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center
and Departments of Sociology and Rural Sociology, Washington State University
Pullman, WA  99164-4014  phone: 509-335-1511  fax:   509-335-0116

Florida vote counts

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Fri, 10 Nov 2000 10:23:07 PST

The recount in Florida presents another interesting lesson in risks in the
election process.

* The recount in Palm Beach County increased the totals for Gore (+751) and
Bush (+108).

* An entire precinct had been left uncounted.  The ballots had been run
through the card reader, but the operator had pressed CLEAR instead of SET.
(The recount gave Gore +368, Bush +23.)

* In Deland, Volusia County, a disk glitch caused 16,000 votes to be
subtracted from Gore and hundreds added to Bush in the original totals.
This was detected when 9,888 votes were noticed for the Socialist Workers
Party candidate, and a new disk was created.  (The corrected results were
Gore 193, Bush 22, Harris 8.)

* The day after the election, an election worker discovered a sack of about
800 ballots in the back of his car that obviously had not been included
in the official results.

* Voting cards failed to fit properly in the slots of some voting machines
in Osceola County, giving 300 votes to the Libertarian candidate (where
only 100 Libertarian voters are registered).  Misaligned card machines
have long been a source of errors.

* In Pinellas County, election workers were conducting a SECOND recount
after the first recount gave Gore more than 400 new votes.  Some cards
that were thought to have been counted were not.

[Source: Democrats tell of problems at the polls across Florida,
*The New York Times*, 10 Nov 2000, National Edition A24]

Punched cards are inherently subject to differences on successive recounts.
Hanging chad is clearly a problem, and successive mechanical recounts
normally change the results each time.  Human inspection is typically
necessary to resolve conflicts.

Although electronic voting systems reduce the mechanical uncertainty that
sometimes makes recounts necessary in punched-card elections, they also
introduce different uncertainties in the integrity of the election process,
and particularly in the integrity of the computer systems.  Certainly,
hanging chad problems, paper fatigue, and tampering with punch cards would
disappear, and recounts would be unnecessary: votes could be tabulated only
as originally entered.  But many new problems are also introduced.  The
opportunities for accidents and fraud are transformed into different
categories -- such as tampering with software development and operation.
And the desire for voter privacy is fundamentally in conflict with any
requirements for accountability (e.g., audit trails).

In the Florida case, we still have to wait for the absentee ballots, and any
possible further recounts in other states.

The end of the Multics era

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Wed, 8 Nov 2000 20:09:31 PST

Now that the very last Multics system has been decommissioned (last month,
the Canadian Department of National Defense 5-processor configuration in
Halifax), I am reminded of the primary goals of Multics expressed in the
1965 Fall Joint paper by Corbato' and Vyssotsky, in which nine major goals
were stated (courtesy of a note from John Gintell):

* Convenient remote terminal use.

* Continuous operation analogous to power & telephone services.

* A wide range of system configurations, changeable without system or
  user program reorganization.

* A highly reliable internal file system.

* Support for selective controlled information sharing.

* Hierarchical structures of information for system administration and
  decentralization of user activities.

* Support for a wide range of applications.

* Support for multiple programming environments & human interfaces.

* The ability to evolve the system with changes in technology and in
  user aspirations.

These principles became fundamental to the Multics development and operation
for the 35 years from 1965 until 2000.  They are still relevant today, and
they are still not as widely observed as they should be.  So, to commemorate
the final resting place of Multics, it seems appropriate to reiterate them

For background, check out Tom Van Vleck's Multicians Web site:


Excessive bounce activity and lost messages

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Fri, 10 Nov 2000 16:28:53 PST

Excessive bouncemail activity from RISKS-21.11 (despite the fact that I had
just removed over one hundred apparently bad addresses in the previous days
resulting from bounces on previous issues) apparently blew our mail system
for a while.  In addition, while trying to cope with the many hundred new
bounces, I inadvertently deleted some RISKS messages received on 9 November;
those that I know about included Ed Reid, Joyce Scrivner, John Mainwaring,
Peter Campbell, Tim Panton, Peter Smith, and Richard Cochran, although there
were undoubtedly others.  Apologies.

PLEASE try to use majordomo to UNSUBSCRIBE from an address that is about to
go away BEFORE it goes away.  Also, please check the RISKS Web sites if you
have not received a message for a very long time and fear that your
subscription might have been terminated -- especially if your own mailer has
had a long outage (in which case you may indeed have been removed).  (I have
not yet installed the majordomo automated list-pruning facility, concerned
for risks of overagressive removal.)  PGN

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer